Maundy Money comes to Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 10:58 26 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 20 February 2013

Maundy Money comes to Derbyshire

Maundy Money comes to Derbyshire

Her Majesty The Queen has chosen Derby Cathedral for this year's Royal Maundy Service on 1st April. Geoffrey Humphrys looks into the history behind the ceremony

The Maundy Thursday enactment of Britains oldest Easter custom the distribution of the Royal Maundy money will take place this year when Her Majesty the Queen comes to Derbyshire to distribute the specially minted Maundy coins in Derby Cathedral on Thursday 1st April, the day before Good Friday.

Continual records of this traditional ancient charity exist from the reign of Edward I (1239-1307), although the first records of the ceremony date to 1210 when King John performed the ceremony at Knaresborough. This makes the enactment a very special 800 years old this year.

Since the early 15th century, annual recipients have been as many elderly women and elderly men as the Sovereign is years of age. So there will be eighty-four Derbyshire women and men receiving Maundy purses this year.

At one time the Maundy money was distributed wherever the Sovereign happened to be in residence at Eastertime. Then during the 18th and 19th centuries it occurred every year at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall, London. In 1891, this building was handed over to the Royal United Services Institution. As a result Westminster Abbey became the new annual venue for the distribution of Maundy money, and remained so for years.

Yet when King George V restored the custom and made the distribution himself in 1932, it was the first time a reigning Sovereign had attended the service for over 200 years. Since then King Edward VIII in 1936, then King George V and Queen Elizabeth II have annually maintained the Sovereign presence and active participation.

In 1953 the present Queens Coronation Year, the Maundy money distribution took place at St Paul's Cathedral. This followed the tradition of it being held there in the Coronation years of her grandfather George V in 1911, and her father George VI in 1937.

After being enacted at St Albans in 1957, for the first time outside London, a pattern of it occurring on alternate years at Westminster Abbey and a provincial cathedral was adopted. In this century Lincoln, Canterbury, Gloucester, Liverpool, Wakefield, Guildford, Manchester, Armagh and finally last year Bury St Edmunds have all hosted the ceremony. This will be the first time Derby has been chosen.

The actual service is preceded by a colourful procession led by the Queen and the Lord High Almoner in his ceremonial robes, followed by the Sub-Almoner, Almonry officials, the Wandsmen, Yeomen of the Guard (a corps created by Henry VII in 1485 following the Battle of Bosworth Field), the Children of the Royal Almonry and local clergy. The Queen will also be attended by her own choir, the Gentlemen Choristers of the Chapel Royal.

Since the days of the plague it has been customary for all the officials and children to each carry a nosegay of herbs and spring flowers, originally as a precaution against possible infection. As the first hymn is sung the glittering assembly moves to their allocated places.

Through illness and infirmity, all chosen to receive the Maundy gifts are not always able to attend. This is not surprising as recipients must be over seventy years of age. In fact, it was not until 1961 at Rochester, that all the selected women and men were able to make a 100 per cent attendance.

The word Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment. This led to the naming of the day, as well as the service, the opening words of which from St Johns Gospel are: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another...

Originally, the example of Christ washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper was followed by the Sovereign washing the feet of the Maundy recipients. This was discontinued after James IIs reign, but the Lord High Almoner and his assistants are still girded with towels in remembrance of the feet-washing ritual.

Formerly, clothing and provisions were also distributed, but these have now been commuted into money of ordinary currency. Two different soft leather purses, one red and one white, are distributed. The red purse contains 3 instead of the clothing previously given, 1.50 for food and 1 for the redemption of the royal gown. This year one will also contain two commemorative coins (one marking the 360th anniversary of the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II), the other purse contains the specially-minted sterling standard silver Maundy coins. The Maundy money as we know it today started with undated, hammered coins attributed to Charles IIs reign. The first dated coins appeared in 1668.

In the early years, there were four Maundy coins one groat, one threepenny, one half groat and one onepenny. This later became one fourpenny, one threepenny, one twopenny and one onepenny, amounting to ten pence.

In 1971, when we changed to decimal currency, the Maundy coins became one 4p, one 3p, one 2p and one 10p, again amounting to 10p. It was decided, however, that the new effigy which had been prepared for use on the decimal coins should not be applied to Maundy money.

There is another essential difference in the Maundy money. The use of silver in English coinage has been continuous since the 7th century. This is now maintained by only the Maundy coins continuing to be made of sterling standard silver. Of these coins, the English silver penny was instituted about AD 720, and gave its later name of the sterling to our whole currency system.

As current coins of the realm, they are legal tender and could be spent at their face value. Needless to say they never are, for there is always a demand for them by coin collectors who would offer far more than their face value for a set, or even one coin.

Most recipients treasure their coins for the rest of their lives, as no doubt will the 168 Derbyshire men and women attending the Cathedral on 1st April 2010.

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